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nuclear family in post-war America, there seemed to be no place for gay men. Though the ideal nuclear family seemed to glorify closeness and acceptance of family members, there was little room for sexual variance. With the prominent post-Stonewall rise of the gay rights movement, the nuclear family began to shift and many forms of media in popular culture made social commentary on attempts at new acceptance of non-heteronormative members in a familial sense. An episode of the popular sitcom The Golden Girls aired in 1991 where a character deals with her brother’s sexual orientation as well as his intention to marry his partner. This episode revealed much of the social atmosphere of the 1980s and early 1990s as far as the place gay men had within a familial construct and as well as the social implications of their sexuality becoming public. In order to understand the implications of The Golden Girls episode, it is important to understand the social climate of the era that came leading up to its release. Families were seen generally seen in an ideal heteronormative light. Gay men struggled with this ideal. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, studies found that many “homosexual men experience their husband or father role as incompatible with their homosexual identity” and further “[t]hey feel that their family roles cannot be reconciled with their
(New York: Harrington Park Press. The stigma of rejecting the heteronormative role he had played for most of his life was too much for him to overcome. a man named William Billings. said “Heterosexual. and [his] love Strommen. 1 . who had not had heterosexual sex in fifteen years.”1 A personal anecdote from Meme English about her HIV+ father’s experience at an AIDS clinic in 1987 demonstrates this: As a routine part of her history-taking. 2 English." In Homosexuality and the Family.” …I said." In Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families: A handbook for therapists. This plainly shows the conflict between familial roles and non-traditional sexual orientation. Erik F. in a letter stating his exclusively homosexual attractions. Many of these attitudes of a paternal and homosexual role being mutually exclusive can be seen all throughout the 20th century.” He looked at me with a face that had survived a gay-bashing twenty-five years before.. 44. “Sexual preference?” My father. a face that no longer knew the truth. stated he “may…marry [a woman] out of duty. For example. in 1945. 1996) 23. “’You're a What?’: Family member reactions to the disclosure of homosexuality.. this man could not bring himself to identify as a homosexual. 1989). "Transgenerational Homophobia in the Family: A personal narrative. “Can my daughter answer these questions for me. convention.homosexuality. The idea of a family with gay parents did not have prominence until much later in the century. The social climate of much of the 20th century led men into believing that must fulfill a heteronormative paternal role in order to be accomplished as a man or raise a family. for he felt identifying as gay would be to relinquish his paternal role. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. she asked.”2 Even though at an AIDS clinic that dealt with gay men every day. Meme. He said. my throat is hurting real bad. “Dad you can tell the truth here.
Sitcoms nearly infallibly make political statements. Not in this Family 10 3 . but also berated breaking heteronormative practices. Heather Murray. 4 Murray. 2010). Television has long stood as a tool for social commentary. through Heather Murray. Not in this Family 9 6 Murray.”3 The reasoning Billings may have had to do this was in order to preserve both his and his family’s social standing so as to not seemingly tarnish their name.”5 Gay men of the time felt trapped into falsifying a heteronormative life to the point of marriage in order to prevent social perception of them as deviant and to not seem as if they had “renege[d]” on the “maturity” or “commitments of adult life. but quickly followed up with “Don’t tell your father!”4 Society urged gay children to attempt to change their sexual orientation or embrace a heteronormative lifestyle despite their sexual orientation. Though the above cases and discussions relate to a father’s homosexual identity. Murray wrote “gays actively repressed their true selves and tried to perfect a social self that fit into society more. let alone their families. The mother initially showed praise at her daughter being open with her and for them having a close connection. gay men found little to no place in society. in Not In This Family. The ideal nuclear family emphasized closeness within a family. discusses a comic in which a girl comes out to her mother. there seemed to be no place for a homosexual member of any kind in an ideal family in the mid-20th century. thus showing how he felt his homosexuality was incompatible with a conventional family. or at least comment on sociopolitical events.of children. Not in this Family: Gays and the Meaning of Kinship in Postwar North America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.”6 With these social pressures. 67. Not in this Family 105 5 Murray.
albeit met with heavy criticism. the gay rights movement was gaining enough ground that there became an opportunity for discussion about gay marriage and relating heterosexual and homosexual love as equal." Infoplease. Jennie. and a woman Susan approaching their table. a whole month before this. 7 . The first televised gay kiss occurred in an episode of L. However. In 1991 there seemed to be a push. Being a primetime. Beginning to come out of an era of repression and hiding one’s sexuality for the sake of social acceptance. This episode of The Golden Girls targeted an audience of families that were dealing with the hardships of accepting a nonheterosexual family member. Wood. Law to many advertisers’ outrage7. The way in which this episode was scripted as well as the audience reactions reveals a lot not only about the progressiveness of the television program. Clayton makes an attempt to introduce his fiancé Doug. The Golden Girls reached a huge and diverse audience of both conservative and liberal backgrounds. The Golden Girls made a political statement of its own.A. The culmination of the episode Sister of the Bride dealt with some poignant social topics in the late 20th century. This provided an opportunity to start dialogue on homosexuality and the family throughout a wide demographic. 2013). They portrayed a gay couple that had the intention to marry before gay marriage was legal in any state in the USA.com/entertainment/gays-in-pop-culture-timeline. http://www. After Susan introduces herself.infoplease. "Timeline: Gays in Pop Culture. but also how families dealt with gay relatives. popular television show. a few of Blanche’s other friends. The clip provided starts with a woman Blanche.their episodes. his lover Doug.html (accessed April 17. for seeing gay couples in the same light as heterosexual ones. her gay brother Clayton.
. “The Golden Girls S0614 Sister of the Bride. I can accept the fact that he's gay. And if you don't like it. but also how non-heterosexual family members came to be segregated or alienated from their families. you don't have to be a part of my family.it was okay so long as I didn't fall in love? Doug's a part of the family . close.” 10 Ibid. This reveals not only the desires of the gay community in this era. Clayton touches on this in his response: What did you mean when you told me you could accept my being gay? Did you mean it was okay so long as I was celibate . 2013). When confiding in her friend Sophia.my family. heteronormative nuclear family and how the definition would need to alter in order to maintain that closeness between the members of the family..however he is quickly cut off by Blanche shouting “Fire! Fire! Everybody out!”8 The humour in this scene is found by Blanche being less embarrassed by seeming crazy by shouting about a non-existent fire than having someone find out her brother is gay. This tells us exactly how adamant families seemed to be about remaining heteronormative in society’s eyes. which was perhaps the main obstacle in accepting non-heterosexual family members. but why slip a ring on this guy's finger so the whole world will know?”10 This expressly states a common tendency of the time to want to repress or hide homosexuality within a family (as well as reiterates her stance from an earlier portion of the episode in which she humorously says she’s fine with her brother goldengirlpalace. she says “Oh look.9 This shows the conflict between the ideal. 8 . 9 goldengirlpalace.” YouTube (Accessed April 17. The character Blanche finds most of her struggle in wanting her family’s social image to be exactly heteronormative. “The Golden Girls S0614 Sister of the Bride.
” . Especially in an era where many people chose to lump immoral sexual deviancy and gay relationships as one and the same. goldengirlpalace. The following dialogue shows the call for equality in heterosexual and homosexual relationships quite plainly: Sophia: Why did you marry George? Blanche: We loved each other. This clearly shows the political agenda of this episode of The Golden Girls in its attempt to equate heterosexual and homosexual relationships. she goes directly to Doug and asks him if he loves Clayton. Sophia. Everyone wants someone to grow old with. Instead of approaching her brother. too. The oldest character in the show. And shouldn't everyone have that chance?12 This moment put an emphasis on love and how homosexual relationships were no different from heterosexual ones in this respect. which he 11 12 Ibid. this claimed more than anything else that gay relationships were every bit as valid as heterosexual ones. Blanche soon leaves to confront Clayton and Doug and in doing so she furthers a call to equality in perception of gay versus straight relationships. then works as the voice of reason in support of Clayton.. It attempted to reconcile the social desire to be considered normal (heteronormative) with the acceptance of homosexual individuals. We wanted to make a lifetime commitment wanted everybody to know Sophia: That's what Doug and Clayton want. liberal people. “The Golden Girls S0614 Sister of the Bride.being gay so long as he dates women instead11). A very probable reason for having the eldest character be the one spurring on acceptance of gay relationships is to diverge from the idea that acceptance of gay couples is for young.
This is perhaps one of the most poignant parts of the scene. or at least one that is not contradictory to the idea of families that was prevalent in the 20th century. but I do intend to try to respect your decision to do it.. “I still can't say I understand what you're doing. The episode is attacking the idea of repression within families.”13 This attacks the social pressure that many gay individuals felt to hide or pretend to alter their sexuality and makes a point that sexuality is something immutable and part of who a person is. Clayton then calls out Blanche’s earlier rejection of Clayton’s sexuality by saying Doug loves him “for what [he] is. Further. In equating the heterosexual and homosexual relationship through romance. What comes next in the scene definitely is very revealing about the purpose of this episode and the era itself. “The Golden Girls S0614 Sister of the Bride.” Ibid. because it attempts to provide a pathway for families to accept their gay relatives despite their reservations due to religious or social pressures.”14 This is a call to the viewers that those who have gay relatives don’t have to “understand” why their relatives are gay in order to accept and support them. Blanche states plainly that it is “very 13 14 goldengirlpalace. not for what he wants [Clayton] to be. This again shows the romantic and almost heteronormative side to the gay relationship between Clayton and Doug.responds in the affirmative to. . I want you to be happy. this dialogue presents how an individual may perceive a family rejecting their sexual orientation as them rejecting the individual altogether. This scene also does not make light of the difficulty in doing accepting a nonheteronormative individual as part of one’s family. Blanche says. the episode is attempting to influence viewers to see gay relationships in a heteronormative light.
This one last effort to show how a homosexual relationship can be. Thus.” his words are met with awkward silence followed by an audience laughing. Blanche responds saying that she is. However. when Clayton asks Blanche if she is ready to have a “new brother-in-law.. The recurring instances of portraying homosexual relationships as heteronormative in this scene reveals the strong grasp that heteronormative social pressures had on individuals in the 20th century. can be heteronormative and like any other couple.” .”15 Further. Blanche comically says to Doug that Clayton “isn’t perfect” and lists faults of his.difficult for [her]. “And he snores. which shows that it is something possible. There was a huge fear of one’s peers judging one’s family for divergence from heteronormativity. in many senses other than the genders of those in the relationship. 15 16 Ibid. This portion is comedic because the audience is well aware of the difference between accepting someone in theory and actually taking steps toward accepting a nonheteronormative family member. to which Doug responds with the quip. “The Golden Girls S0614 Sister of the Bride. This helps bridge the gap in people’s idea of a nuclear family and their ideas of what it means to be of a divergent sexuality. This shows how even though there may be those who’d claim to support their family members no matter what. goldengirlpalace. the episode is making the point that one can be a part of a family and still not be heterosexual. ready. The scene ends with dialogue that once more attempts to equate the heterosexual and homosexual relationship. in fact.”16 This shows that the struggles that heterosexual couples face are many of the same ones that homosexual couples face. they would struggle with it in practice.
Though a sitcom could not change things overnight. The Golden Girls attempted to dispel the idea that one had to be heterosexual to be a part of a family. The wide demographics that were exposed to these shows were able to readily see an example of homosexual love – something some of them may have never had a chance to see.Analysis of this clip truly shows how strong of an adherence to heteronormative ideals there was throughout the 20th century. . the visibility of heteronormative gay relationships on television truly helped spur on acceptance of gay individuals in the social sphere. The Golden Girls took a stand against social pressures to reject homosexuality by attempting to reconcile homosexuality and heteronormativity.
. 1989. Erik F.com/watch?v=0Fhg0pdnZCQ (Accessed April 17.infoplease. Jennie.youtube.Works Cited English. A. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 18:20-23:10. http://www.com/entertainment/gays-in-pop-culture-timeline. Heather A. New York: Harrington Park Press." In Homosexuality and the family. 1996... 2013). 15-27. 37-58. Strommen. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. http://www. “The Golden Girls S0614 Sister of the Bride. "Timeline: Gays in Pop Culture. Meme.html (accessed April 17. October 18. Murray. Not in This Family: Gays and the meaning of kinship in postwar North America.” Online Video Clip. 2013). goldengirlpalace." In Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families: A handbook for therapists. Wood. "Transgenerational Homophobia in the Family: A personal narrative." Infoplease. ""You're a What?": Family member reactions to the disclosure of homosexuality. 2012. 2010.